Nightly News   |  November 23, 2012

Drug cartels descend on Puerto Rico

A vicious drug war has come to the island home of 4 million Americans, which is being used as a transshipment point to the East Coast. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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>>> of violence across puerto rico , which is home to about 4 million american citiz citizens. much of the violence involves drug cartels , who are increasingly turning their attention there from mexico. authorities seized four million pounds of cocaine this year, a lot of it headed for our shores. our report from gabe gutierrez from san juan .

>> reporter: this is a war on american soil. in puerto rico , federal agents are hunting for suspected drug traffickers . on this week, they arrest 16.

>> there is plenty of work for us, that is for sure.

>> reporter: are these raids are becoming more common on the island, best known for its stunning beaches and its rich history, dating back to columbus. but the murder rate here is now six times the national average, and police say more than two thirds of the deaths are drug-related.

>> i think the cartels are smart, they realize we're putting efforts on the southwest border, and not paying attention to the third border, the caribbean, so now they exploit that.

>> reporter: this is one of the main areas through puerto rico , officials say more than 80% will end up in the continental united states . the drugs come from venezuela, puerto rico , and new york.

>> do you feel ignored?

>> certainly, we are banging on washington's door.

>> reporter: the outgoing governor says that the island desperately needs more federal help.

>> we are american citizens and we deserve to be protected.

>> reporter: few people share that frustration more than the romero family .

>> tough -- tough.

>> a her a has died.

>> reporter: on the night of his 20th birthday last year, their son, julian, was walking down a well-lit street in san juan , and he was stabbed three times during a robbery, and died, after trying to protect his girlfriend.

>> i am very proud of him. i am. very saddened with this huge weight. i have to continue bearing it.

>> reporter: a wait that much heavier because his father says that julian was studying criminal justice and wanted to be an fbi agent.

>> puerto rico cannot survive with this terrible crime wave.

>> reporter: the war, on americans third border. gabe gutierrez, nbc news, san juan , puerto rico .